Friday, May 20, 2005

Crush Course to Reduce Culture Shock

Dear Colleagues,

My first business trip to the Canada was in early 90's. It was for a new order in Eregli Iron & Steel plant for BFG firing high steam output capacity steam boiler contract at home. My Canadian host company Babcock &Wilcox of Canada, reserved a hotel room in Cambridge Holiday Inn, and rental car reservation for transportation. They told me that I would have an easy time. Easy, for a Canadian national, Maybe !

I would go directly to the Hertz desk, introduce myself, show my local driving license, sign documents, get the car, drive to Cambridge, Ontario, and the Hotel, then I get a good- long good night's sleep, and feel fresh refreshed for my meetings on the next day.

What could go wrong? Since I was All fixed, reserved, prepared.

I landed at Toronto International around midnight. I cleared customs, and then headed for Hertz. Nearly an hour passed for clearing customs before I could head over to the Hertz Rent-a-Car.

The lady behind the counter approved my passport and local driving license.
Then she asked what type of car I would prefer.

Here were the reasonable choices and the most expensive one. I accepted the latter since I was travelling on my company's expense account.

Everything seemed to me normal, and reasonable. She said, the brand new Ford
Taurus was full accessory/fully accessorised, insuranced, and had a full
tank of gas. and gave me the car key and a directional map from Toronto international to the Holiday Inn in Cambridge. Everything seemed so easy.
----Good build up. We just know that nothing is going to be easy for a newcomer.

A company driver took me to my rental car in a big parking lot next to the airport. The biggest car lot I have ever seen in my life. Bigger than our soccer stadium at home. I was driven to the biggest parking lot I'd ever seen. It was bigger than a soccer stadium back home in Turkey.

All cars, no human. I was left with a big car, Ford Taurus latest, zero mileage, full accessory, air-conditioning, and full car radio set. However I was looking at the car desperately, thinking how to run. At 2 AM the lot was deserted. I was left in front of a brand new Ford Taurus. I had assumed that the car would have stick shift but when I climb in behind the steering wheel, I realised that it was an automatic. It was my first experience with such a car.

How am I going to drive this car, 100 miles or more to my hotel? I looked for someone to help me. At last, I saw a teenager at the other end of the car park, washing the returned cars.

I walked over and asked him to teach me how to drive an automatic car. He first had some
difficulty in understanding my foreign accent, then looked at me and said "Easy", /EASY!" without any humiliation in his voice. I appreciated him very much for his attitude. His attitute was helpful and I did not feel humiliated.

In my car, he briefly instructed me on the gas, brakes and the sticks "drive" position. Then he said "Good luck" and departed.

Feeling the effects of jetlag after a 12-hour flight over the Atlantic, I test drove the Taurus fives times around the parking lot and still not totally sure of my aility to drive, I headed for Cambridge.

Luckly there wasn't much traffic - but so many traffic lights and directional signs at the airport junction that I was confused and forgot what I'd read on the map..

At home it is easy. You just stop at a gas station and ask directions. Here, I couldn't find one. On the big 4-5-lane highway, I chose a direction, and luckily I made a correct decision.

On the road, I discovered North American country music. At first I thought I was listening to the same song being played over and over, later on I became a fan.

The next culture shock also was due to the discovery of air conditioning, at home we open a window and all our small roads we don't need cruise control either. By 5 AM, I arrived in Cambridge and found the Holiday Inn.

Traffic, wide roads, automatic transmission, powerful radio, music yes country music, as if it was non-stop same tune at first. The first time listened to country music and it was as if a non-stop same music. Then I loved and became fan of it.

What is air-conditioning?? At home you open up the windows that is it.
Car was almost double of my own car. I felt like a redneck truck driver.

What is cruise control? All non-sense for me. We do not have that long highway that time.

You could imagine my dilemma at 0100hrs. but imagine the drama if it had been six hours later. If it was snowing. Anyhow I succeeded in my mission, so I could congratulate with myself for showing the same pioneer spirit as those first intrepid North Americans when they coaxed their covered wagons westwards. I admire any person from a different culture who ventures into the mad, mad arena of the other civilisations. Perhaps, one day, I should sit down and write a travel book on ways to make life easier for new arrivals to an alien environment.

Anyhow sometime early AM hours are good for learning how to drive a automatic car, how to learn Canadian traffic signs, how to find correct direction, start how to enjoy North American country music.

Today here in my home country we have similar highways. My latest car has cruise control, air condition plus CD playing capability. Time changes fast.

Your comments are always welcome !!


Thank you for sharing this funny story with us, Haluk Bey, it's generally the other way around, imagine North Americans going to Turkey and having to learn to drive the stick shift. Not in a million years!

We Turkish-Canadians are a weird lot, actually, since we have the best of the two worlds, or maybe the worst of the two worlds. Akif Bey, of course, is an exception. He's a plain old-fashioned Communist, a cross-breed between John Steinbeck and Nazim Hikmet.:)) Joking, joking, I just wanted to wake him up from his summer slumber.

Having grown up with Hollywood movies I can't say it was a culture shock for me to arrive in New York, and then to Montreal. My ass was frozen, and I was miserable, but it's called the cold shock. I cursed daily for six months at Christopher Columbus for discovering this place, but then I had to apologize. For it was the Vikings that had discovered North America.

My first culture shock was when I first went back to the old country. I and my sister were happy to find seats on the last airport shuttle bus when they admitted another 50 people. They were not only sitting on top of us, but a suitcase had been placed on my head during the 1 hour ride into the city. I guess this is a subtle warning not to stick your head out of the crowd.

The second shock came when I went into the shower at the hotel to discover that there was no hot water. I tell you, there's nothing like a cold shower to wake you up and bring the best out in you like a cold shower. It's even more effective than that guy screaming at you in Arabic at 4 o'clock in the moring over high-powered loudspeakers. I'm only hoping that some day they may change the language to English, or even French, so I can understand why God is so mad at me. I'm a fully bilingual Turkish-Canadian, you know (bilingue).

In the morning I was sure nothing else could shock me. After all, even Suleiman the Magnificent had crouched over this hole in the floor, and I'm sure he had conceived of some of his most brilliant ideas in this position, like attacking the Hungarians. There's something very exotic about being so close to your innards, and I'm sure Yoga was not invented in India. The first asana was definitely invented by the Turks, as usual, the catalysts of civilization. And they say it's healthy, you know, except that Westerners' tendons and thigh muscles weaken due to disuse, and you may need a pulley hanging from the ceiling to pull you up. I think the next Nobel prize will go to a Turkish engineer that develops this idea. Otherwise the Fire Departments will work overtime after Turkey joins the European Union.

I was wrong. The 4th culture shock came when I discovered there was no toilet paper, and no water was coming out of that tiny little faucet either. Fortunately I still had a little bit of energy left to be able to shout for help to my sister, and she brought the Emergency Response Team from the Reception downstairs. I was very impressed by the cold calm Turks, my beloved old countrymen, exhibit in the face of an emergency. Buckets of water were brought from downstairs as if the team was already fully trained in this procedure. I learned later, of course, that water in Turkey is fully obedient to the laws of nature, and normally doesn't go above the second floor unless requested.

After our first bus experience, and we learned that our old countrymen also smoke in the buses, my sister was adamant that we rent a car to go to Marmaris. Now having been immunized to culture shocks I stared in cold silence as Turkish Hertz told us that the match box we were renting cost US$80 per day plus insurance. Another buffer against the shock was, of course, that my sister was footing the bill. The man at the counter didn't laugh when I suggested that the company change its name to Hurts. Turks take their jobs seriously, not like us Turkish-Canadians, and are pissed off most of the time. Ottoman Turks used to send their wives to work on the field so they could discuss important affairs of state in the tea shop, but that doesn't work in the modern economy any more. Therefore nothing pisses off a Turk more than a customer, the reason he's working. Don't crack a joke at a working Turk.

Having obtained my first driver's license driving an Army type Jeep, I love the stick shift. It brings out the predator in me. When I tried to roll down the window and the handle came off I decided I wasn't going to worry over such a small detail, since there were other things I had to worry about, Turkish drivers. Erroneous leftiness as they call it, hatali sollamak, seems to be the main reason so many Turks prematurely knock on the doors of Heaven, and God is too busy to look at anything else. With the judicious use of my headlights and the high beam, and the horn, I decided I was going to be the terror of the Turkish highways. As G.W. would say, "Terrorize the terrorists!". Turks are not used to drivers who use their headlights during the day, but me, I'm a Turkish-Canadian! They were clearly annoyed, but that means they see you clearly.

My sister thought the trip would take two days or more. She said they had made the same trip in my uncle's car in 3 days. After we arrived in Marmaris in little more than 12 hours she was a frozen stiff, and whiter than ever before. She had to spend some time in the toilet to recuperate. Fortunately, it was designed by the Europeans, not Suleiman the Magnificent.

ATA GUVEN, Vancouver, Canada

No comments: